Icon 134: Venice Biennale 03.07.14

Written by 

Cover August 2014 134

The cover features an image from South Korea’s Golden Lion-winning pavilion in the Giardini

Icon’s August 2014 features in-depth analysis of the Venice Biennale, from the story behind the British pavilion by its curator Sam Jacob to a Japanese architectural detective agency. Scroll down to see the contents and click through to read the articles online

The mayor of Venice missed the opening of this year's Biennale, arrested for taking backhanders from the construction company building the sea barriers that, it is hoped, will protect the fragile lagoon. The sinking but otherwise immutable heritage site seems an odd place to have a celebration of contemporary architecture.

It’s hard to imagine, as Italo Calvino does, Venice as the Invisible City that is the ghost of all others. However, in the first days of summer it was the chosen place for, as David Chipperfield put it, "the meeting of the tribes". This year's curator Rem Koolhaas chose to focus his central exhibit on what, in 1851, the German architect Gottfried Semper referred to as "the elements of architecture".

In creating a show without architects – that focuses on walls, stairs, windows etc – Koolhaas decided to ignore what Alois Riegl, in his critique of Semper, called "artistic will". His technological reductionism invariably ends in the cold triumph of technology.

The exhibition, despite its mass of intriguing objects, whose histories are deftly unpicked, seemed fused with nostalgic melancholy. The heroic modernist project has failed, consumed by corporate power, and architects are confined to the veneer of things: no alternative is presented.

Koolhaas instructed the national pavilions to examine the theme, Absorbing Modernity; the diverse ways in which the so-called international style was adopted in specific contexts. This results in a compelling geographic tour that shows how modern architecture's blank facades allowed for the projection of very different images of utopia, visions that ran aground in myriad ways.

In this issue, rather than simply reviewing the show, and in the spirit of the Biennale's cabinet of curiosities approach, we have chosen to elaborate on the various themes and images that particularly fascinated us: the cast of characters include a French enthusiast of ramps, an English aristocrat and corridor fetishist, a Japanese architectural detective, a Swiss flâneur and a rollerskating popstar.

Read more about Icon here and subscribe to the magazine here 



Christopher Turner



quotes story

The heroic modernist project has failed, consumed by corporate power, and architects are confined to the veneer of things: no alternative is presented

Clockwork Jerusalem


Sam Jacob’s curatorial diary recording the preparations for the British pavilion exhibition

Architectural detectives: In the 1970s a Japanese architect set up a detective agency to document modernism in Tokyo

Jacques Herzog: The Swiss architect on his mentor Lucius Burckhardt and the difficulty of exhibiting architecture


Our round up of Clerkenwell Design Week, featuring the best new product launches and Roundabout 5, a reimagining of London’s Old Street roundabout for Icon by five leading architects; and we talk to Patricia Urquiola as part of the Design Museum’s talks series

Reviews: Radical cities by Justin McGuirk, Slacklands by Corinna Dean, civic grandeur in Manchester, and modernism in Latin America

Icon of the month: The corridors of Welbeck Abbey

Anatomy of Google’s Self-drive car

Rethink: London Boroughs

Five most wanted: Gerry McGovern

Sketchbook: Fredrikson Stallard


Leave a comment

Click to show